CORRECTS HANDOUT INFORMATION This 1937 photo made available on Friday May 3, 2013 by the RAF Museum London shows a German WWII Dornier Do 17 bomber in Zurich. The only known surviving example of the German Dornier Do 17 bomber known as the “flying pencil” is to be salvaged from its watery grave in the English Channel. Museum director Peter Dye said Friday the bomber is roughly 60 feet below the surface and that bringing it to the surface intact will be tricky. (AP Photo/RAF Museum)
LONDON (AP) — A famous German WWII bomber has spent decades submerged in the English Channel — but that's about to change.
British officials on Friday announced a complex salvage operation to rescue the only known surviving example of the German Dornier Do 17 bomber, an aircraft nicknamed "the flying pencil" because of its narrow fuselage.
The wreck is located just off the Kent coast in southeast England in about 60 feet (20 meters) of water. The plane had been shot down during the 1940 Battle of Britain, a monthslong struggle over the skies of Britain that saw RAF fighters engaged in a colossal life-or-death struggle with the German Luftwaffe.
Experts said the bomber, discovered by divers five years ago, is remarkably undamaged despite the passage of time.
Officials at the RAF Museum in London said the challenging salvage will be the biggest recovery of its kind and they hope to one day display the bomber at the museum.
Museum director Peter Dye said the bomber will be exhibited next to a Hawker Hurricane fighter that had also been shot down during the Battle of Britain.
"We feel it's important that they be exhibited side by side," he said, pointing out that two German airmen died in the Dornier. "With time, we recognize that young men died on both sides, which is why we don't intend to restore it. We will conserve it and place it on exhibition alongside the wreck of a Hurricane shot down at much the same time in which a British pilot died."
Plans call for the plane to be lifted out of the water in three or four weeks if preparations go well. But Dye cautioned that the recovery would be dangerous — divers will only be able to work for 45 minutes at a time, among other challenges.
"We are not guaranteed success," he said. "There have been previous aircraft recovery projects that didn't go so well, cases where the structure has disintegrated on retrieval. When it breaks the surface, gravity and the laws of mechanics come into play, so we very much hope the frame we've constructed will support that structure."
Corrosion is another obstacle that could spoil the procedure, he said.
Dye said the German government told about the recovery operation.